LCS scandal may be a non-issue in GE15, say analysts

PETALING JAYA: The RM9bil Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) scandal that has surfaced recently may be a significant issue for some, but it is not likely to affect the support enjoyed by the Barisan Nasional-led administration, political analysts say.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement that a forensic report would be declassified, with a probe ordered has taken the wind out of the issue.

Given that there is no indication when the 15th General Election (GE15) will be held, it could also become a non-issue by the time the elections come around, they say.

Even the planned protest by some groups this Sunday is unlikely to sway the voters.

At worst, the controversy has only caused a slight dent in Barisan’s popularity, said Dr Azmi Hassan, senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR).

“The current Barisan scapegoat is Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but he does not hold any position except as MP. Hence, it will not affect the political landscape,” he said.

He said Ismail Sabri’s call for a probe showed the government, now without Najib, would take action against those guilty.

“The problem is whether there was any mishandling in terms of corruption by the then defence minister,” he said, dismissing claims that it was akin to another 1MDB scandal.

Dr Azmi said that although the issue was positive for Pakatan Harapan, it did not give much mileage for Perikatan Nasional as many of its senior members, especially those from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, were part of the government.

“It leaves Perikatan in an awkward position. Take, for example, how Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin lamented the issue although he was the prime minister at that time,” he said.

Dr Azmi, however, voiced concern over the LCS issue, especially as it is tied to security matters.

“These ships are crucial in the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea.

“With this issue taking a political angle, it may cause a further delay in the arrival of the ships. What’s worse, other nations will know the technical specifications of our LCS,” he said.

Universiti Malaya’s Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi also said Ismail Sabri’s order for a probe could improve confidence among the people towards Barisan.

“This, however, depends on the findings and how the opposition uses this,” he said.

Barisan could face a torrid time from Pakatan at GE15 if the issue is not tackled efficiently by the current Ismail Sabri-led government.

“I am, however, confident the Prime Minister will ensure the issue is at least pacified,” he said.

He said it was also difficult for the opposition to capitalise on this matter, especially in the rural and semi-urban communities.

“Although the opposition can campaign through social media, it would still be hard to sway Barisan and Umno strongholds,” he said.

“It all depends on how the opposition harps on this issue until Parliament is dissolved,” he said.

Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said managing perceptions is key to ensuring the issue does not become political baggage in GE15.

“Although the issue does give mileage for both Pakatan and Perikatan, transparency by the current government in tackling it can help regain voters’ trust,” said the Universiti Sains Malaysia political analyst. He added that voters now had the luxury of comparing three different administrations over the past few years.

“This will allow them to evaluate beyond the issues at hand. Candidates and parties will have to build trust among the voters,” he said, adding that fence-sitters would be the real kingmakers.

Prof Sivamurugan, however, noted that the situation could spiral out of control if efforts were not made to calm the waters quickly.

“In the lead up to GE14, information on the 1MDB scandal reached rural and Felda areas due to the use of social media.

“To avoid a repeat, the government has to ensure the LCS probe is transparent, open and reflects good governance,” he said.

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